Feds Demand Mississippi Pay Back Millions in Misused Funds

By: Bridget Clerkin August 1, 2017
Federal investigators found Mississippi misappropriated $7.1 million in funds meant to combat drunk driving.
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To continue fighting DUIs, Mississippi needs an IOU.

The Magnolia State has been accused of misappropriating federal funds meant to aid the state in combating drunk driving—to the tune of $7.1 million.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) supplied the cash, and the unhappy federal customers now want their money back.

The demands were made on the state after the NHTSA conducted a routine audit on how the Mississippi Office of Highway Safety (MOHS) was spending the funds—and didn’t like what they found.

The state funneled the money into its local and state police stations, but not specifically on any programs or projects targeted toward DUI prevention, according to the federal report. Indeed, only 5% of the nearly 3,000 citations examined by the NHTSA were issued for drunk driving, while 73% of police officers reviewed as part of the audit failed to administer even a single DUI ticket over the course of a year and a half, the report states.

Instead, the $7.1 million was used to support general law enforcement practices, such as issuing citations for speeding and seat belt violations, which could not be considered a proper use of the earmarked DUI funding, according to the NHTSA.

The federal agency also named the Mississippi highway safety program as “high risk,” accusing the MOHS of inadequately documenting, controlling, and supervising the funding. The state is the only one in the nation to be given such a designation.

Conducted between 2011 and 2012, the audit was issued to the MOHS in 2013. It was only made public recently, following a records request by local Mississippi media outlets, and it appears that the state has yet to repay the debt.

At the time of the audit, Mississippi had the highest rate of vehicle fatalities in the country, and ranked third for the most drunk driving incidents, according to the NHTSA’s report.

To help it combat those issues, the federal agency gave the state $20.8 million over the course of 3 years, from 2007 through 2010.

Still, the report noted that Mississippi did make some improvements to its Office of Highway Safety over the course of the audit period, including hiring a finance manager and an internal auditor.

With the report recently coming to light, and the funds yet to be paid, however, it seems those new MOHS positions will be busier than ever.

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